Origin Stories

This award-winning show combines science and narrative to explore our human story and explain why we are the way we are. Listen and explore human evolution one story at a time.

27:11 2022-05-17
In this episode, we explore five strange fossilized footprints found by Mary Leakey at the site of Laetoli in Tanzania. Decades after their original discovery, these footprints have revealed a new story about our ancient ancestors that expands our unders...
23:21 2022-02-25
In this episode, we talk with Evan Hadingham, senior science editor for the PBS program NOVA. His new book, Discovering Us: 50 Great Discoveries in Human Origins, highlights the thrilling fossil finds, groundbreaking primate behavior observations, and imp...
31:16 2021-12-21
2021 was a big year in science! Fossil discoveries introduced new relatives to our family tree, new findings added fascinating twists to the human story, and breakthroughs in research methods opened new worlds to explore. In this episode, five scientists ...
33:48 2021-11-09
As a young girl, Biruté Mary Galdikas dreamed of going to the forests of Southeast Asia to study the least-known of all the great apes, the elusive orangutan. People told her it would be impossible. But, in 1971, she traveled to Borneo and started what i...
54:02 2021-10-05
Scientists agree that dogs evolved from wolves, but exactly how and when that happened is hotly contested. In this episode, Origin Stories contributor Neil Sandell examines the evolution of the relationship between dogs and humans, and explores the journe...
17:30 2021-09-29
Learn about the evolution of our extraordinary ability to cool ourselves down. Biological anthropologist Andrew Best discusses the past, present, and future of sweat in this special bonus episode. About our guest Dr. Andrew Best is a biological anthropolo...
22:40 2021-07-07
Producer and scientist Kevin McLean travels to an island off the coast of Panama where researchers have found an isolated group of monkeys with a creative approach to surviving in a challenging environment. Links These tiny monkeys have entered their Sto...
34:42 2021-06-04
The widely-held idea known as the “obstetrical dilemma” is a hypothesis that explains why babies are so helpless, and why childbirth is so difficult for humans compared to other animals.  The obstetrical dilemma suggests that babies are born early so...
28:27 2021-05-07
Sleep is one of the defining traits of human life. It's also one of the most mysterious. Dr. Horacio de la Iglesia is a neurobiologist who's on a quest to understand how patterns of human sleep evolved. His new research shows an unexpected connection betw...
28:02 2021-03-27
What is it like to study an endangered species like chimpanzees, knowing they may go extinct within your lifetime? Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Zarin Machanda is a co-director of the Kibale Chimpanzee Project, a long-term field study in Uganda. This stud...
20:35 2021-03-02
Your life story is hidden in your teeth. The days, weeks, years, and stressful events of your life are recorded in tiny timelines that can be read by scientists like Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Tanya Smith. She and her colleagues used fossil teeth to te...
43:19 2021-02-01
Early prehistorians had little more than stones and bones to work with as they tried to piece together the story of the Neanderthals, but today’s researchers work in ways that early prehistorians could never have imagined. Archaeologist and author Rebec...
36:23 2020-12-31
If exercise is healthy, why do so many people avoid doing it? If we're born to be active, why is it so hard to keep your New Year's resolutions about exercise? On this episode, learn about the powerful instincts that cause us to avoid exercise even though...
25:26 2020-11-27
In 2017, Dr. Isaiah Nengo announced the discovery of a 13 million-year-old fossil ape found in Kenya. This remarkable fossil, nicknamed Alesi, was from a time period where there’s a big blank spot in the fossil record of our family tree. Alesi tells us ...
22:07:50 2020-11-03
Variation in human skin color has fascinated and perplexed people for centuries. As the most visible aspect of human variation, skin color has been used as a basis for classifying people into “races.” In this lecture, Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Nin...
09:38 2020-09-30
September 30 is International Podcast Day and on this episode, we’re handing things over to producer Lucía Benavides, who sat down with Leakey Foundation grantee María Martinón-Torres for an interview about her life and career. This bonus episode is ...
40:39 2020-08-28
Atapuerca is a place that holds the mystery of human evolution in Europe from 1.2 million years ago through recent times. You can find, in one place, the oldest human in Europe, the first murder in the archaeological record, and fossils that tell a range ...
33:40 2020-07-30
What is it like to be responsible for the safekeeping of the ancestors of everyone in the world? In this episode, we travel to the National Museum of Ethiopia to see our most famous fossil relative – Lucy, and meet Yared Assefa, the person who takes car...
28:35 2020-05-29
Have you ever considered how profoundly food has shaped who we are as a species? Julie Lesnik is a paleoanthropolgist who studies the evolution of the human diet. Her special focus is on insects as food in the past, present, and the future.  Additional I...
34:40 2020-04-08
Deep in the forests of Borneo, lives a society of hunter-gatherers who speak a language never before shared with outsiders. Until now. The Cave Punan are the last surviving hunter-gatherers in Indonesia and they have reached out for help to save their for...
22:58 2020-02-29
What happens when bows and arrows and face-to-face conversations are replaced by high powered weapons and cell phones practically overnight? Dr. Polly Wiessner is an anthropologist who has studied the Enga of Papua New Guinea for 30 years and her current ...
31:48 2019-11-28
A mysterious new human relative was discovered ten years ago from a pinky bone found in a Siberian cave. They're called the Denisovans, and people around the world carry their DNA today. Until just a few months ago, the sum total of all the fossils the De...
37:00 2019-10-31
In this episode, we explore the story of Piltdown Man – one of the most notorious hoaxes in history.  When Piltdown Man was discovered in a gravel pit outside a small English village in 1912, it was celebrated as a "missing link." The find captured the...
31:56 2019-08-07
In the final installment of our "From the Archive" series, Kenyan paleoanthropologist Louis S.B. Leakey shares the story of his life and work in a never-before-released interview recorded in 1969. The Leakey Foundation was formed 1968 in honor of Louis Le...
46:24 2019-06-14
Mary Leakey was called the "grand dame" of archaeology. She was a methodical and exacting scientist who made some of the world's most significant archaeological discoveries. In this lecture from The Leakey Foundation archive, Mary Leakey tells the story o...
56:13 2019-03-14
Tepilit Ole Saitoti was a Maasai warrior, author, and natural resources expert. In this lecture from The Leakey Foundation archive, Saitoti tells his life story, discusses Maasai culture, and explores the challenges faced by the Maasai people. Learn more...
31:44 2019-02-14
Raymond Dart was getting dressed for a wedding when he was given two boxes of rocks and fossils. Inside the boxes, he found the first evidence of humanity’s African origins. This episode tells the story of the 1924 discovery of the Taung Child through a...
51:41 2019-01-10
In this never-before-released archival lecture from 1974, anthropologist Margaret Mead discusses the lives of women from prehistoric through modern times. Show Notes The Leakey Foundation is 50 years old this year, and we’re celebrating this milestone b...
54:01 2018-12-13
In this never-before-released archival lecture from 1973, the legendary primatologist Dian Fossey tells the story of the early years of her groundbreaking mountain gorilla research. Show Notes The Leakey Foundation is 50 years old this year, and we’re ...
48:06 2018-11-29
Carl Sagan explores the evolution of human intelligence from the big bang, fifteen billion years ago, through today in this never-before-released archival lecture. Show Notes The Leakey Foundation is 50 years old this year, and we’re celebrating this mi...
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